Maryland court stays the course on state's liability standard

Maryland's high court recently decided that Maryland's all-or-nothing approach to determining fault in civil lawsuits should remain the same unless the Legislature decides to change the law in the future.

A former assistant soccer coach in Howard County brought the case before the court after he was severely injured while swinging from the metal crossbar of a soccer goal. The goal fell onto him, resulting in multiple facial fractures and thousands of dollars in medical costs.

In Maryland plaintiffs cannot be compensated if they are even slightly to blame for their own injuries. Maryland is one of the few remaining jurisdictions that still have this rule, which is known as "contributory negligence".

Most other states, 46 of them, still allow the plaintiff compensation but require a reduction of the plaintiff's compensation by a percentage based on the plaintiff's relative fault. This system allows juries to consider the relative fault of all parties in the suit when determining compensation.

In the case before the high court, the jury found that a soccer association was negligent for failing to properly secure the goal. However, the jury found that since the young coach was partly to blame for the accident and subsequent injury, he would nonetheless be entitled to zero compensation.

The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled 5-2 that it has the power to rewrite the rules, but the majority observed that Maryland's General Assembly had failed to change the law when it had the opportunity, and the court would be out of place to thwart the apparent will of the legislature.

At least until Maryland changes its laws, victims of slip-and-fall accidents or other accidents should contact a legal professional to protect their rights and chances of recovery.

Source: Oregon Live, "Maryland Court keeps all-or-nothing liability standard," July 9, 2013.

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